Beirut -- A Lebanese lawmaker who had long been critical of the Syrian regime was killed yesterday along with his son and eight people when a bomb exploded near a popular waterfront promenade in Beirut.
The assassination threatened to further destabilize this small country already paralyzed politically, stretched militarily and suffering economically.
Walid Eido, 65, a lawmaker with the anti-Syria coalition, was driving with his son Khaled and two bodyguards in a predominantly Sunni part of town when the bomb tore through nearby cafes and ice cream parlors just before 6 p.m. The explosion was so powerful it blew out windows on the 10th floor of a hotel across the street, sending a shower of glass onto the busy street below.
Security officials said Eido's convoy was targeted with explosives that had either been placed by the roadside or rigged to another car.
Eido, a former high court judge, often railed on TV against Syrian interference in Lebanon. He was a fixture on the waterfront, often playing cards with friends at the popular Sporting Club.
Eido's assassination is the latest in a string of attacks against anti-Syrian notables in Lebanon but the first of a Sunni politician in Lebanon since the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.
Hariri was a vocal critic of Syrian dominance of Lebanon, an issue that has contributed to sectarian divisions. His death triggered widespread protests that eventually forced Damascus to end its 15-year military presence in the country.
The latest attack comes on the heels of a May 30 decision by the U.N. Security Council to establish an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in Hariri's assassination - a move opposed by Syria as well as by Shiite and Christian groups in the Lebanese opposition.
"The fact, timing and context of Eido's death may all be significant, and surely spell more dark days ahead for Lebanon and the wider Middle East," analyst Rami Khouri wrote in a piece distributed by Agence Global. "The reality is that nobody knows who is behind this killing and other attacks in Lebanon, though all seem increasingly connected in a spiral of political violence that now defines much of the region."
Saad Hariri, a lawmaker and son of the slain prime minister, said Tuesday that although the near future might prove to be a "hard time," he was optimistic about Lebanon's long-term prospects. But he added: "The problem is in the short term; that's when we all get killed."
In addition to Eido, six other prominent anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon have been killed since 2005. Syria has denied involvement.
While anti-Syrian politicians accused Damascus of being behind yesterday's attack, the killing also seemed to worsen sectarian tensions in the already-fragile country.
"The Syrian regime is killing off our leaders," Sami Ashi, a youth leader of Hariri's party, said as he stood outside the American University of Beirut hospital, where the wounded were being treated. "This might create a severe conflict. The Syrians are trying to create a new civil war."
In a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora asked the U.N. for help in investigating Eido's killing and called on the Arab League for assistance. He also charged the opposition with creating instability in the country.
Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.